Schnabel and fellow DGA nominees talk awards, strike

Saturday morning’s “Meet the Directors” sesh stuck mostly to tricks of the trade with scant attention paid to labor issues crippling much of showbiz. Only Julian Schnabel dared address the writers strike, and he did so at the very end of the three-hour DGA sesh.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” helmer drew a parallel between the dark subject matter of the nominees’ films and the writers strike, now in its third month.

“I think the world is really in a messed up place,” Schnabel said, adding, “It seems as if every one of these films addresses that.”

Schnabel, a painter before he turned his hand toward helming, is the lone nominee who didn’t direct his movie from his own screenplay. Fellow noms Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”), “No Country for Old Men’s” sibling duo Ethan & Joel Coen, Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) and Sean Penn (“Into the Wild”) each did double duty for their pics. All were at the packed sesh except Penn, who’s in pre-production on “Milk,” the Gus Van Sant film.

“A friend of mine says, ‘Things don’t get any better — people just get tougher,'” Schnabel continued. “If we can’t fix the writers strike, how are we going to fix the Middle East?”

Earlier this week, Gilroy, a long-time scribe who directed on the first time on “Clayton,” participated in a protest about the WGA strike, but did not mention labor strife at the panel, a fact that may have been deliberate, judging by Schnabel’s statement that Gilroy “wasn’t going to say anything about it today.” In any case, Gilroy stayed mum.

Nor, for that matter, did DGA prexy Michael Apted mention the contract agreement the guild brokered with the AMPTP on Jan. 17.

Schnabel was a voluble presence on the panel, interjecting candid asides (he doesn’t much care for Bernd Eichinger) and digressing frequently in his responses to moderator Jeremy Kagan’s queries. Other panelists also spoke freely about the dangers of professional child thesps and restrictions shooting in L.A. and Gotham.

“In West Texas, there’s really no adult supervision at all,” Anderson said, after recounting how they set the oil rig fire in “There Will Be Blood.”

The Coen brothers, meanwhile, learned the risk that comes from using a non-movie dog in “No Country for Old Men” — the dog that chased Josh Brolin into the water was an attack dog and he meant business. To kill him in the scene, the helming sibs used a harness, special effects and a latex dog.

Gilroy was frank about his anxiety as a first time helmer, frequently referring to his learning process on the job. However, he noted, “I was pretty buttoned up — I had a lot of people watching over me.”

The multi-hyphenate quickly grew to appreciate the benefits of having a star of George Clooney’s magnitude on the set, noting that Gotham’s men and women in blue would pretty much do anything to help him.

“The air traffic controller would reroute traffic for George,” he said.

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